No, your pet dog is not likely ever to catch on fire, so what are flame retardants doing in domestic canines? Indiana University researchers found manmade flame retardants in the blood of pet dogs at levels five to ten times greater than those found in humans. A previous study found even higher levels in cats.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in furniture and electronics to delay their catching on fire, but they also somehow move out of these products and wind up in homes. Apparently they are in dust within homes across America. A 2004 study showed high levels of flame retardants in house dust. Flame retardants have also been found in human breast milk. PBDEs were even found in dog food, perhaps due to the way it is processed, though dog food never catches fire.
Some studies have suggested the following human problems are due to flame retardant exposure: thyroid disruption, learning difficulties, lowered sperm count, and behavior changes. However, it still isn’t known exactly what effect exposure to flame retardants could be having. The retardants Penta and Octa are no longer manufactured in the United States because of health concerns. This type of chemical accumulates in fat tissues. The U.S. EPA has indicated that PBDEs may be toxic to the liver, thyroid, and developing brain.
This year the flame retardant HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) used in polystyrene building insulation was banned by the European Union. Arlene Blum, Ph.D., a leading expert on health and environmental hazards has said these flame retardants sometimes only delay the ignition of household products in a fire by several seconds. She summarized the complex situation, “It’s time to ask what the fire safety benefits of these flame retardants are. In some cases, there is no fire safety benefit.” (Source: Buildinggreen.com)
As some PBDEs are phased out due to health concerns, they are being replaced by new flame retardants such as Dechlorane Plus, decabromodiphenylethane, and hexabromocyclododecane. These chemicals apparently are unregulated and their effects on health have not yet been documented.
So how can you protect yourself, if you feel the need? There are some furniture products and electronics advertised as flame retardant-free, so you could start with Googling the key word phrase, flame retardant-free furniture or computer. There are also mattresses that are claimed to be flame retardant-free.
Reducing the number of products in your home containing flame retardants should decrease the amount of exposure to yourself, family and pets.